On being an outsider at church

Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division.

Jesus – Luke 12:51

After my last post, my brother told me he is glad politics isn’t mentioned in his church – he would hate to feel isolated because his political views might not match those of other members of the congregation. My pastor tries not to be political and he rarely mentions politics in his sermons. Where I have been exposed to political views of the congregation is in my small group or koinonia. I have been in two groups so far and in both, I have found my political views to be at odds with others in the group. When politics is discussed, I feel like an outsider, like I am not following the same Christ. How can I have real fellowship and unity of purpose with Christians who are not like-minded?

My first small group met in the home of a member of the church, a woman who has served as a deacon. It was a great group of women and we shared and learned a lot in our Bible studies. But it became really uncomfortable when a couple of people claimed that Obama was a socialist. When the hostess called Obama the anti-Christ, I dropped out of the group and told her that the political comments were the reason.

I was invited to join my current group by a woman I met in a Sunday school class. At first we met in the home of one of the women but she travels a lot so we started meeting at church. As I’ve gotten to know the women, I’ve figured out that once again, I am an outsider. A few years ago, in response to news stories about a refugee crisis, one group member said she would throw the children back over the fence. WWJD? Definitely not that. When we were discussing “taking up your cross,” another woman said that for her that means speaking out against homosexuality. Not once has she expressed any concern for their souls. Another woman has expressed anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant views.

Prior to the 2016 presidential election, I heard a guy telling someone about a Sunday school class on voting your Christian values. The person asked whether there was a consensus in the class about who to vote for. He just laughed and said, oh yeah. I knew I would not have wanted to be in that class. After the election, the senior pastor said he thought that those of us who were upset about the results did not trust God enough. In my small group, one of the women laughed about the negative reaction to the election – “snowflakes.”

I thought about searching for a different church, one that reflects my views on God’s love, mercy, and justice, and the kind of life that Christ calls me to live. I decided to stay where I am because the word of God is preached, even if much of the congregation doesn’t really get the message of Jesus Christ. The scripture is being fulfilled. They hear but never understand.

When politics comes up in my small group, I feel like a visitor from another planet. The much repeated statistic about the election is that 81% of white evangelicals voted for Donald Trump. When I heard that statistic, I looked around at my group and thought to myself, that sounds right. I am the one in five who could not vote for the man who is the antithesis of my Savior. I am an outsider in my Christian group because my allegiance is to Christ, not to a political party.

Sometimes I feel like a liberal among conservatives and sometimes like a conservative among liberals.  I have conservative theology—I believe the Bible—but that leads me to “progressive” opinions about politics, because the Bible has much to say about justice and helping the poor.  And I believe we are called to show love and grace even toward people we disagree with, especially toward people we disagree with.

Philip Yancey, Author of Christians and Politics: Uneasy Partners

In being an outsider, I face challenging questions about Christian fellowship. Can I have a meaningful connection with people I disagree with? Can we live in harmony with each other (Romans 12:16)? Can we encourage each other (1 Thessalonians 5:11)? Can we accept one other (Romans 15:7)? Can we be kind and compassionate to each other (Ephesians 4:32)? Can we teach and admonish one another (Colossians 3:16)?

I can easily answer yes to most of these questions. Despite our differences, we are united in our love of God. We are one in our desire to seek Him. And yet, because my political beliefs are at odds with the rest of the group, I experience a lot of inner turmoil. I don’t accept views that contradict the teachings of Jesus. When those views are expressed, what should I say? Most of the time, I keep my mouth shut. I can get angry when I am passionate about an issue and I know that I should be gentle and not quarrelsome. That said, I could not be silent when one of the women said she hoped that Trump is a Christian and another said that “they say he is a Christian.” (Read 1 John 1:5-10.)

It would be easier to only worship with people who share my political views. But I have to live in this world; I can’t isolate myself from people who believe differently. In the Parable of the Weeds, the enemy sowed weeds among the wheat. The servant asked the owner, do you want us to pull up the weeds? “No,” he answered, “because while you are pulling the weeds, you may uproot the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest.”

2 thoughts on “On being an outsider at church

  1. I think religious views inform the political choices of most religious voters, I know mine do. And it would seem that the teachings of Jesus are so simple (“‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ and ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ “) that we’d all come to the same political conclusions, but the truth is sometimes it seems like religious conservatives have more in common with the Taliban and religious liberals have more in common with atheists than religious conservatives and liberals have with one another. And that is probably the best reason to avoid politics in the pulpit and in small group discussions. If we could discuss religion and come to a common understanding of Jesus then perhaps we might understand one another’s politics better. What complicates it I suppose is our views on the Old Testament. A fundamentalist believes that every word of the Bible is literally true, that the Old Testament is as true today as the day it was written. As a non-fundamentalist I look at the contradiction between the Old Testament and science, the Old Testament and the teachings of Jesus, and the Old Testament feels more like a window into the roots of our religion than an infallible document. And when I perceive a conflict between the Old Testament and Jesus, Jesus wins.

    I guess one example of how a fundamentalist would look at things would be to look at Jesus and the adulteress. A non-fundamentalist would say that when Jesus says let he who is without sin cast the first stone Jesus wants us to forgive sinners. A fundamentalist might look at the same story and say a) in accordance with Leviticus she still deserves to die, we just don’t deserve to be the ones to kill her, and b) that story applies to adultery but Leviticus says homosexuals should be killed and the story of the adulteress applies only to adultery… not to homosexuality. Another example would be immigrants. We believe that Jesus calls upon us to treat illegal immigrants and Moslem refugees as we would like to be treated, but a fundamentalist would be able to point to multiple examples when God told the Hebrews to slaughter other nations. So God wants us to see in terms of US and THEM.

    I’m not sure how we reconcile this conflict between fundamentalism and non-fundamentalism. Perhaps we can’t.

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    1. Sometimes, I wonder if people are just wired differently. Conservatives are more authoritarian and fearful of change. Those of us who are more liberal or progressive are more open-minded and we place more value on individual freedom. I think most of also have confirmation bias. We seek out others who confirm what we already believe.

      Liked by 1 person

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